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Conflict in Cross Cultural Groups: Lessons to Prevent and Manage It

Posted on Apr 02 2015 under Blog Posts

crossculturalclipartModern technology and various transportation options have allowed for the cooperation of people across the world. Specifically in today’s work environment, employees are now working internationally with many different individuals and in some cases these people differ in age, gender, race, language, culture or nationality. In the article, Cross Cultural Conflict Resolution in Teams, John Ford goes into detail about the difficulties of international teamwork and also offers some lessons to prevent and manage conflict in situations that require teamwork.

Ford states that conflict is a major contributor to failure in groups. It is important to be mindful of the fact that various cultures react to conflict in different ways. One example of these cultural differences is communication styles. Communication in a group can either be expressive or restrained. While some cultures might focus on eye contact and physical touch, others might be less interested in physical touch and dodge eye contact. Furthermore, communication differences in relationships and level of directness can be seen throughout many cultures. In some cultures it is important to be direct and get to the point. Individuals from this type of culture would probably be upset by people who dodge the relevant questions and instead focus on personal matters. In contrast, the people from the second culture, who prefer addressing personal matters first, might be offended by the directness or aggressiveness of the individuals from the first culture. That being said, in the second culture it could be the norm to create a relationship with peers before tackling a project.

Ford goes on to explain that varying communication styles are not the direct cause of conflict. Instead, conflict can arise when judgments are made due to the different styles. He uses an example of a team member who strongly and loudly expresses opinions on subjects. An individual from a less vocal culture may see this behavior as arrogant or even rude. On the other hand, the individual with the strong opinion might deem the timid team member untrustworthy because he or she is quiet and does not hold eye contact. Variances in communication styles are only one example of the many differences between cultures that could cause conflict.

When working with a diverse group of people, it is important to be patient and mindful of any differences. Ford provides seven lessons to help foster better teamwork between unique individuals. The first lesson he mentions involves knowing yourself and your own culture. It is important and valuable to understand yourself and your own culture so that you can compare other cultures more effectively. The second lesson states the importance of learning the culture of the other individuals. Since cultures are dynamic, it is nearly impossible to fully understand them without experiencing them first hand. However, studying a culture by reading literature or watching films can still help prepare you for cooperation. The third lesson is called “check your assumptions”. In this section, Ford stresses the dangers of assumptions. It is important to stay open-minded and seek different interpretations to situations. Inaccurate assumptions or false judgments often lead to negative stereotypes.

The next lesson suggests focusing on asking questions instead of assuming that you know and understand a foreign culture. Asking questions not only shows respect, but it can also prevent conflicts by providing clarification. In the next lesson Ford suggests simply listening as an important tool for conflict prevention. Listening can provide a lot of valuable information about a foreign culture. The sixth step encourages you to consider the platinum rule. While somewhat similar to the “golden rule”, the platinum rule says to treat your team members how they would like to be treated rather than how we would like to be treated. Ford’s final lesson is about the fact that culture is so diverse and spread out. Therefore, instead of learning specific strategies for cross cultural conflicts, it would be more beneficial for us to assume that all our conversations deal with different cultures. We can utilize the lessons provided by Ford in our own lives every day.

 

John Wagner

Student Intern

Salisbury University – Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution

 

Reference:

Ford, John. “Cross Cultural Conflict Resolution in Teams.” Mediate.com. Oct. 2001. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.


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